Add one more remarkable thing to the list of what man's best friend can do: diagnose cancer.
Researchers at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock took “general source” dogs—strays trained in scent detection—and presented them with 34 urine samples from patients. Some had thyroid cancer and others had benign nodules.
With 88.2% accuracy, the dogs were able to pick out who had cancer. The results follow studies that also showed that dogs can tell the difference between cancerous and noncancerous tissue.
The results could have wide-reaching implications, offering a more cost-effective way to perform diagnoses in underserved areas that lack access to ultrasounds or biopsy equipment. Researchers also say dogs may be able to detect other pathologies, including ovarian, breast, kidney, bladder and prostate cancers.
“What we have done, no one has attempted to do,” Arny Ferrando, who helped lead the study, said in a news release. “We have taken the next step by asking the dog to tell us whether or not cancer exists before the medical diagnostic system does. We wanted to see, can the doctor utilize the dog to help diagnose cancer?
“We've all looked at it from a skeptical, scientific standpoint, but the data just keep leading us to the fact that this has remarkable clinical potential,” said Ferrando, a researcher in UAMS' Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging.
His team's next step is to work with researchers at Auburn University's Canine Performance Sciences program. They plan to use dogs bred for detection in similar research.
“If we do 300 samples with a diagnostic accuracy of 90%, that's pretty hard to ignore, especially if it comes from Auburn, which has been doing canine training for 25 years,” said Dr. Donald Bodenner, director of UAMS' Thyroid Center.